Internet Tracking and How it Can Affect Your Research
I’m sure you’ve noticed—if you do any shopping online—how photos of the items you view in online stores follow you around the Internet for days, if not weeks. Commercial sites on the Internet put cookies into your browser memory and use them to track where you’ve been, what products you’ve reviewed, and to show you what they’d like you to purchase. News sites, blogs, forums, and other web pages also place cookies on your computer.
“Chris—ya know, I don’t read these articles just for my health. When’s she gonna get to something about writing?”
Ok, ok, I’m getting to that.
One site that does a lot of tracking is Google. Google is everywhere. Even when you are not signed into Google, they are still tracking you (especially if you use Chrome).
As a writer (See? Now I’m getting to it!), you probably do a lot of research on the Internet—for the book you’re writing, how to publish, which agents or publishers might be interested in your work. You may use Google and you assume that what you’re being shown is what’s out there, right?
If you’re using Google to search, all that tracking affects what Google shows you.
Let me describe an example. These are completely made-up, extreme, stereotypical characterizations that are not meant to offend anyone!
(A) Mary Lou is a die-hard Democrat in Massachusetts. She regularly consults Salon.com for her news, defends the current president in comments she makes on blogs and news articles, and is an avid pro-abortion supporter.
(B) Steven is an equally committed Republican living in California. He prefers Fox News, has signed petitions insisting the current president is not qualified for his job because of his birthplace, and is aghast at the SCOTUS’ recent marriage decision.
Mary Lou and Steven both decide to use Google to search for information about “Social Security funding.” THEY WILL BE SHOWN VERY DIFFERENT SITES.
Mary Lou’s page might show her sites that explain the benefits of Social Security, how to sign up, and ideas about making adjustments to payouts in order to make the funds last longer.
Steven’s page might show him sites containing dire predictions about the program’s lack of funds, sites that discuss people who are abusing the system, and the injustice of the idea that wealthy people shouldn’t collect.
Both types of information support the algorithmic profile that has been built up about each person through their Internet activities.
This phenomenon is called “the Internet bubble” and it’s becoming a real problem. While people (kind of) like the idea of being shown things they might like to buy, most people don’t like the idea of their search content being filtered. Especially writers who might be looking for information on all sides of a topic.
There isn’t a lot of information on the Internet about this, but if you’re interested in finding out more and perhaps how to avoid your personal “bubble,” these sites can help.
There is one search engine that claims to offer unbiased results, duckduckgo, I’ve been using it for some years now and I’m satisfied with it.
Next week we’ll discuss ‘Sharing Content, Copyrights, and Permissions’
This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.
I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.
If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.